Andrew Johnston: Architecture and Consultancy Services

Case Study - “Ticket Shop” Development for Marks and Spencer Plc (1999 – 2002)


Development of an agile platform for a key process in foods retailing

Key Outcomes

Successful initial delivery followed by progressive exploitation. Improvement in performance of key business process from over 14 days to a few hours

Key Challenges

Tight timescales, very limited network bandwidth, no available platform and Y2K freeze preventing application changes

Key Technologies

Microsoft Office, Exchange, Visual Basic and SQL/Server. Agile development


Marks and Spencer had an urgent business requirement for a new back office system, for which several previous projects had failed. It was subject to a number of severe and conflicting constraints limiting timescales, the delivery of new software, and available WAN bandwidth. I designed a solution which met the very tight deadlines, used roughly 1% of the previous communications bandwidth, and exploited the existing Microsoft Office/Exchange infrastructure to deliver substantial functionality without any new components at the desktop. The solution reduced a key business process necessary to keep goods on sale from over 14 days to a few hours.

I provided technical leadership for two years, as the design was substantially extended in scope, including multi-country and multilingual support. Complex business and formatting rules were moved from code to a rule database, and the system migrated to a component-based architecture. I espoused and put into practice my strong belief in agile development practices, which delivered value progressively from a team with widely-varying development abilities.

Marks and Spencer cited me as co-inventor (with the key business manager) in a patent application covering several important concepts from this system, and I continued to provide consultancy for its development including the later development (in just ten days) of a working thin-client version of the system using Microsoft .NET technology.

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